You may still be busy removing the worm from your ear put there by the sheer ubiquity of ‘Human’, the big hit from Rag’n’Bone Man. Once done, around for quite a while longer, different reasons entirely and the name of a band instead of a song, their incomparable music won’t be beamed out from your local coffee shoppe any time soon, Human, drummer-leader Stephen Davis, Django Bates’ brother Dylan Bates on violin, trumpeter/electronicist Alex Bonney and pianist Alexander Hawkins, return in June with Fractured Lands not that potential CostaBucksNero absence makes any odds. Listen, above, no background information available at all about the release so far, the band do not gig much but made a rare appearance at the weekend in London at the Vortex. The story so far... well four years ago the very fine Being Human came along which amounted to the quartet’s debut. Bates impressed most back then. And the good news is he is pretty darn good again, shucks, on the upcoming album too, again to be released by the Babel label. His role is much more integrated now so that makes the band even more convincing. Go to the wayward dirge-like stagger of ‘Lennard Road’ where he comes into his own for a slice of the best Bates bits. Hawkins is more brooding possibly than ever and certainly Humanly before. Listen to his haunting introduction on ‘My Imaginary Friend’, the fragile trumpet line of Bonney following and Davis’ aesthetic use of small bells imbuing the track with a heartrendingly tragic atmosphere. Yet it isn’t all stark. Hawkins, lightening up, introduces a touch of son somehow constructed and deconstructed on ‘Circle Knots’. The band thrives on an unofficial uncertainty principle meaning that they are not afraid to ask musical questions and leave them unanswered, delving along the way into unsaid emotions rendered abstract. This track expresses that well. No safety net is provided and no it isn’t just a play-anything-anyhow jam, something you often hear alarmingly bandied about when free improv is being dismissed. These guys are all masters of improvisation and/or spontaneous composition. (Is composition less valid if it is done in real time?) Davis, resolutely not a bluffer, and who is probably best known for his work in the avant piano trio Bourne/Davis/Kane, as often as not plays straightahead jazz as ‘house drummer’ at Belfast jazz club Berts. He is a technical master of the kit (inspired as a teen by ex-George Russell drummer Keith Copeland), and you can best hear that when he plays standards with singers but really deep down he prefers multi-directional styles such as Rashied Ali’s, an area he looked at for his doctoral thesis.
Hear Stephen Davis on Thursday night, part of saxophonist Alan Barnes’ pickup band, playing Belfast in McHughs